WASHINGTON, July 27 (UPI) -- Any U.S. effort in the conflict in Mali needs to center on the government in policy that doesn't give al-Qaida room to grow, a defense official said.
Human Rights Watch this week expressed concern about forced disappearances and torture in the south of Mali nearly four months after Capt. Amadou Sanogo led a coup that toppled the civilian government. Coup supporters expressed concern about violence in northern Mali, where rebel groups and al-Qaida sympathizers have claimed autonomy.
Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary for special operations at the U.S. Defense Department, told the Aspen Institute's security forum in Washington that conflict in Mali was difficult to manage.
"Mali is a difficult situation because it starts with the government in Bamako," he was quoted by CNN as saying. "We have to find a way to move forward with the government first and I think we need to start to accelerate that effort."
Al-Qaida sympathizers in northern Mali recently razed protected heritage sites in Timbuktu saying they didn't conform with their conservative interpretation of Islamic law. Sheehan said the Defense Department can't let al-Qaida "sit in ungoverned places."
Members of the Economic Community of West African states have lobbied for military intervention in Mali. The European Union has expressed support for the role of ECOWAS in mediating the crisis and Sheehan said there were several options under his consideration.